Photos courtesy NHRA

Ron Capps prepared to ride Countdown consistency all the way to the championship

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With three races remaining in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship, veteran racer Ron Capps is halfway to his first Funny Car title.

Capps, who has been racing Funny Cars for nearly 20 years, heads into Sunday’s final eliminations of the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals as the most consistent driver in Funny Car during this season’s playoffs.

Capps has continued to hold the points lead based on uncanny consistency and outstanding performance. In the first three races, he’s reached the semifinals or finals each time.

Even better, Capps and his Dodge Charger R/T have reached the semi’s or better in 12 of the last 13 races overall.

2016_Ron_Capps head shot
Ron Capps hopes to carry his consistency all the way to his first career NHRA Funny Car championship.

If he can continue that level of success in Sunday’s finals, as well as in the last two races of the season coming up at Las Vegas and Pomona (California), Capps’ task will be complete and he’ll finally reach the goal that has evaded him up until now.

Capps, who has five wins and four runner-ups heading into Sunday, leads Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. by 24 points.

“Of course it’s better to be chased than be the chaser at this point,” Capps said in a media release. “But we’ve still got a long way to go.

“It’s nice we’ve kept up the consistency and I said to win a you’ve got to average a semifinal finish or better.

“We’ve had such a great season and we want to keep it going. We’re clicking really well as a team and it’s time to take advantage of it.”

Capps and Johnson had a classic battle in the final round of the last race, two weeks ago at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pennsylvania. Johnson won the race, cutting deep into what had been a 70-plus points lead, and leaving it at just 24 points.

Still, Capps has held on to that coveted No. 1 spot in the standings for the last 12 races – and you can bet he’s not going to give it up without a fight, particularly since he’s finished runner-up four different times in his career (1998, 2000, 2005 and 2012).

“Being close to winning so many times has proven beneficial to me, being in these type of positions,” Capps said. “You have to look forward to that pressure and there’s not a minute that goes by without thinking about the race and how to be better.

“There’s a lot of things that can go through your head this time of year, and you’re so embroiled in this points race and the pressure of it, but you get to do something pretty cool for a living and that needs to be enjoyed.”

In addition to Johnson being 24 points in arrears, Jack Beckman is 93 points behind Capps – with former champ Matt Hagan and reigning Funny Car champ Del Worsham.

Winning a would also bring plenty of enjoyment for Capps, who also must hold off the likes of Jack Beckman, who sits 93 points back, Matt Hagan (-110), reigning world champion Del Worsham (-122) and 16-time Funny Car champ John Force (-138).

“I’ve always looked forward to this race, especially during the Countdown,” said Capps, who won at Texas back in 1998 and typically fares well there. “Maple Grove can end a lot of title hopes, so we’re excited that we did well there and we’re going to a track I love.

“We’ve had a few issues, but with the week off we were able to find them and rectify them. The last three races, we’ve done well at over the years. I always look forward to Dallas (and) we’ve done well in Las Vegas and Pomona.

“We started off the season with a win and we would love to end it the same way.”

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Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).